We weren’t able to get around to talking about every single notable player for the Pittsburgh Steelers during our midseason evaluations at the bye week, so as we have another bye week and a brief pause in football, I wanted to take this time to circle back a bit and highlighting a few more players who played an undervalued role for the team this year.
The Steelers went 6-2 during the first half of the season, and did even better in the second half, with only a review in New York separating them from an 8-0 back half. 7-1 isn’t bad, but it is the difference between a bye week and homefield advantage.
As the season wore on, different players were called upon to step up at different times, and I wanted to take a moment to talk about some of them. This week, I will be highlighting Tyson Alualu, Sean Spence, Cameron Sutton, James Conner, Chris Hubbard, and Chris Boswell.
Player: Cameron Sutton
It appeared to be a snakebitten rookie season for Cameron Sutton, the Steelers’ third-round cornerback. He dealt with injuries during the preseason and in training camp, missing the first game and then suffering a hamstring injury that was significant enough to land him on injured reserve with a return designation.
That meant that he would have to miss at least the first half of his rookie season, and with six cornerbacks already on the roster—including fellow rookie draft pick Brian Allen—it seemed reasonable to assume that he might not be activated at all.
As fate would have it, he not only would be activated from injured reserve, he would start a game. Against the New England Patriots. In a game that would go a long way toward deciding who would own homefield advantage in the AFC throughout the postseason.
Sutton returned to practice after Joe Haden went down with a fractured fibula. He was activated a few games later when Marcus Gilbert was suspended, though he did not play in his first game. In the second, however, he played the second half after Coty Sensabaugh was benched.
He then rotated with Sensabaugh a week later before starting against the Patriots. While the team lost, it was not him to blame, even if he did give up a short and tightly-contested touchdown pass.
Haden returned after that Patriots game and has played just about every snap in the final two games of the regular season, except those that do not require him, but Keith Butler has not forgotten about his rookie cornerback.
In the season finale, the defensive coordinator introduced a new package that I cannot recall the team ever running before that sees seven defensive backs on the field. And from the sounds of it, this doesn’t appear to be a one-off thing. While it would be very rarely used—a few times a game at most—that role at least is his, and perhaps the dime job, while he takes over roles on special teams.